NYC gets second chance: Don’t rebuild it!

Its back to the drawing board yet again for the fractious fraternity of moguls and bureaucrats charged with overseeing redevelopment of Lower Manhattan’s Ground Zero, site of the 9-11 disaster, which still sits empty (but for a new trans-Hudson rail line station) three-and-a-half years after the day the World Trade Center collapsed. After seemingly endless negotiation, litigation and recrimination, the various parties involved had finally more-or-less agreed on a modified design for the 1,776-foot “Freedom Tower” that would restore to New York the dubious honor of hosting the world’s highest human-made structure (the prevailing ‘tude: that’ll show them terrorists!) Now the NY Police Department throws a new wrench into the works, insisting the design does not meet security concerns and demanding further modifications. The announcement comes just as Kevin Rampe, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC, the authority created to oversee the project) has announced he is stepping down to take a non-controversial job with an insurance firm. (Newsday, May 5)

The concerns mostly seem to center on avoiding a second collapse in the event of another terror attack. (The National Institute of Standards & Technology has just released a long-awaited study on the mechanics of how the original Twin Towers collapsed.) Predictably, little attention has been given to the concerns of Lower Manhattan residents that redevelopment at the site is posing a further toxic threat by disturbing dust and debris from the WTC collapse, and that the EPA has provided insufficient oversight.

But Newsday does report that the new setbacks have been met with “head-shaking, finger-pointing” by local residents, community groups and 9-11 survivors. Small wonder. For all the endless lip service paid to the solemnity of rebuilding on hallowed ground, the more prosaic prerogatives of power, profit and prestige have left a more impressive imprint on the redevelopment effort. In fact, the effort has been an unseemly legal mess, in which 9-11 survivors have sued Ground Zero leaseholder Larry Silverstein, the NY-NJ Port Authority which owns the site, and the LMDC for unduly modifying the original design by architect Daniel Libeskind, sacrificing memorial aspects of his vision for office space, communications gear and a transit hub. They have been joined by Studio Libeskind in the suit. But Libeskind’s own unseemly bickering with his rivals in the project, and general acting like a pretentious geek, have contributed to the farcical atmosphere.

In a (perhaps unintentionally) telling analysis piece on the new setback, Newsday writes: “What does it mean for a building to be secure? Nobody knows. The most obvious deterrent to terrorism would be to erect a small, forgettable, insignificant building that would make no symbolic claims. But as countless bombs at Israeli cafes and Baghdad intersections have made clear, even that is no guarantee. Faced with the impossibility of preventing an attack, architects are instead learning to plan for the aftermath. They can limit the damage from the blast and try to ward off total collapse…”

All Newsday is doing here is echoing the prevailing logic–but what “logic”! This is the equivalent of arguing that because sober drivers also get into accidents we might as well all drive drunk!

On the first anniversary of the 9-11 disaster, WW4 REPORT, in conjunction with the New York Psychogeographical Association, issued its own proposal for a human-scale, non-hubristic Ground Zero redevelopment project, which would not pose further terrorist bait and would instead de-escalate the pathological contest between spectacular tower-raising and spectacular terror. The proposal was even printed in Newsday on Sept. 18, 2002–and promptly forgotten, of course. Hey, nobody ever listens to us!